FMI Applauds IRS Ruling to Allow Consumers to Use Health Benefit Debit Cards at Supermarkets

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'A victory for consumer convenience.'

This is a victory for consumer convenience. It frees them to obtain valuable health benefits at retail stores everywhere

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The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) today applauded the December 14 IRS ruling that consumers may use Health Reimbursement and Flexible Spending Account (HRA/FSA) debit cards at all supermarkets and mass merchant outlets.

Previously, the IRS held that consumers could redeem benefits with HRA and FSA debit cards only at drug stores until supermarkets and mass merchants install the technology to process these transactions, known as an information inventory approval system (IIAS).

"This is a victory for consumer convenience. It frees them to obtain valuable health benefits at retail stores everywhere," said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. "FMI members have advocated for years that consumers should be able to use their FSA and HRA debit cards in supermarkets, responding to consumer frustration over the limits.

"FMI conveyed these concerns to the IRS, prompting the agency to issue the ruling clarifying that these limits would be lifted during the time period that supermarkets and mass merchants install the IIAS technology. In fact, once these systems are in place, customers will no longer have to retain paper receipts or submit them to their HRA and FSA plan administrators."

The IRS ruling will allow for debit card purchases of hundreds of millions of dollars in drugs and other products that qualify for the benefits at supermarkets and mass merchant outlets in 2007, according to FMI estimates.

The ruling is timely because debit benefit plan administrators were processing FSA and HRA debit card transactions under a 2003 IRS guidance document that appeared to them to classify supermarkets and mass retailers as "medical merchants." The IRS recently rejected this interpretation, and administrators announced plans to stop accepting debit card transactions from them on January 1, 2007. Under the new ruling, they are allowed to continue accepting these transactions in 2007.

Food Marketing Institute (FMI) conducts programs in research, education, industry relations and public affairs on behalf of its 1,500 member companies -- food retailers and wholesalers -- in the United States and around the world. FMI's U.S. members operate approximately 26,000 retail food stores with a combined annual sales volume of $340 billion -- three-quarters of all retail food store sales in the United States. FMI's retail membership is composed of large multi-store chains, regional firms and independent supermarkets. Its international membership includes 200 companies from 50 countries.

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Bill Greer


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